Competing Free Speech Values in an Age of Protest

54 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2017  

Erica Rachel Goldberg

Ohio Northern Law School

Date Written: February 28, 2017

Abstract

Almost every First Amendment case can be framed as implicating free speech values on both sides of the First Amendment equation. Government action directly abridges speech, but government inaction may allow private parties too much control over others’ speech. First Amendment doctrine, which generally protects speech only from suppression by state actors, can thus compromise the very free speech values that form the rationales for the First Amendment. Scholars and litigants have argued that government regulation of speech, to preserve free speech values, is necessary in areas ranging from campaign finance, to right of access to media resources, to bigoted speech.

This Article endeavors to catalog and resolve cases involving competing free speech values, and then applies its solutions to violent and disruptive protests. Strict adherence to a formal state action doctrine should resolve most, but not all, clashes between free speech doctrine and values. A rigid application of the state action doctrine best advances both formal and substantive First Amendment equality.

This Article proceeds in three parts. First, the Article chronicles the Supreme Court’s approach to cases involving competing free speech values. In only a few contexts – such as the media’s publication of illegally obtained information – has the Supreme Court acknowledged a clash of free speech values. The Article then demonstrates why the state action doctrine, with its associated formal equality and neutrality principles, will ultimately advance free speech values. The Article allows for the exception made for illegally obtained speech, but clarifies how courts should define the newsworthiness test applied in those cases. Finally, the Article considers political protests, and distinguishes between prosecution of violent protesters, which should be encouraged, and legislation criminalizing disruptive protest tactics, which may be unconstitutional.

Suggested Citation

Goldberg, Erica Rachel, Competing Free Speech Values in an Age of Protest (February 28, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2925255

Erica Rachel Goldberg (Contact Author)

Ohio Northern Law School ( email )

Ada, OH 45810
United States

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